Zoe Hazan speaks to the inimitable Tony Law about his new stand-up show ‘A Law Unto His-Elf What Welcome’, which hits Bristol’s Tobacco Factory stage on 9th April.
It is the first day of the Easter vacation and the wacky, Canadian-born comic is looking after his children in his home in north London. Whilst elements of his zany comedic mannerisms seep into our conversation, he is extremely friendly, gentle and down to earth.
How did you get into comedy and did you know it was something you always wanted to do?
I was always the ‘class clown’ figure at school, for two hours a day I was super funny—and the rest of the day really grumpy. I never really thought it was something I could do, but now it’s the only thing I can do. It’s less of a career choice and more a way of being. For me, it’s a sickness and also a therapy.
As a country boy with no qualifications, I always thought comedy was for town folk, so I thought, if I was going to be funny anyway I might as well monetise it!
So you’re coming down to Bristol as part of your ‘A Law Unto His-Elf…’ tour—have you visited the city before?
I am! I did a gig at the Tobacco Factory last year, although I still think it is called the chocolate factory. I was late to my show so didn’t get a chance to really explore but I just remember that the people are really great.
Can you tell me a bit about the show?
In my mind, it was going to be a show about recovery—I have recovered from the usual—and it ended up being about me taking responsibility and reminiscing about nostalgic things that never really happened, like when I was a semi-professional trampoline artist in the 1970s…
So it’s the sort of comedy for people that have seen a lot of my comedy and now are wondering which direction it could go in. Rather than reminding people of things they already think are funny where they react with the kind of ‘oh yeah’ kind of laugh, this is more of a ‘oh I didn’t see that coming!’ response.
And like a hunter or Warrior of yore I head off out. To provide and protect my family through clownin and arseing about for laughs
— Tonylaw ask CKP (@mrTonyLaw) March 24, 2017
A lot of modern comedy is observational, how does your surrealist or stream of consciousness style fit into this?
I see my comedy more in terms of performance art. I set out on the path of trying to be ‘uncopiable’ or original but I think I have lacked that gene that knows when to make things acceptable. But if you do it long enough, you can find enough people that are willing to accept it. Although, maybe not on a television show level where they want you to be a bit more easy to get in to. I usually start half-way through a joke most of the time, I like to deliver the element of surprise. So everything I say is definitely surprising even if people don’t find it funny, but of course I think it’s funny—top-end funny.
I know you like to do a lot of ad-lib and improvisation, how does this fit into a rehearsed show?
It is all written in an ad-lib, but if the ad-lib goes well then I keep it. If it’s a really great night then I can ad-lib quite a bit. Sometimes I wish that I recorded specific shows because you do a great ad-lib and then cannot remember what you came up with later, but that is what has been great about Twitter—sometimes people remind you of some of the improvisation.
even if I am lacking in confidence, [something] somewhere deep inside me reminds me that I am good at what I do
It all comes from new material nights and winging it. I write and write and write, but that almost never makes it into the actual show. I can write for a whole day and none of it will make it in. But maybe a week or even a month later, something pops into your head that maybe wouldn’t have if you hadn’t got rid of all the stuff about living in a pond…
‘I’m wearing a flight suit at the moment, I wear it on airplanes. I love it. It makes me feel fifteen!’
What are the best ways of dealing with rejection or when a joke flops? How do you grow the notorious ‘thick skin’ needed in comedy?
I have really thin skin so it’s hard to give advice on that but I would definitely say— don’t read anything about yourself!
I have always had a belief that I am funnier than anyone else, way down inside myself. So even if I am lacking in confidence, somewhere deep inside me reminds me that I am good at what I do—it’s as brutally simple as that.
I think that if people aren’t laughing then they are wrong, which is obviously the exact opposite of what you are told. I think, ‘they’re wrong, they’ll catch up!’ or ‘they’re wrong, and I’m not’. It is all about relentlessness, perseverance and self-belief.
What advice do you have for aspiring comics?
The biggest strength for a comedian to have is compromising what you think is funny for something that you know a larger audience would like. That is totally ambitious and probably the clever thing to do. In that way I am quite weak, I find it difficult to deliver something that I know wouldn’t make me laugh, but I know would make a vast audience laugh. My mission is to develop that skill, that’s my goal these next couple of years. That’s the thickest skin you need in the world.
At Epigram, we love your style as much as your your comedy—sum up your fashion sense in 3 words.
Has. No. Sense.
I’m wearing a flight suit at the moment, I wear it on airplanes. I love it. It makes me feel fifteen!
Law’s ‘A Law Unto His-Elf What Welcome’ is on at the Tobacco Factory on Sunday 9th April. Tickets are available here.
What are your thoughts on Law’s totally mad brand of stand-up comedy? Let us know in the comments below or on social media